HomeNewsArticle Display

JBLE Airman overcomes struggle by paying it forward

U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager, talks to Airmen during a water confidence training class in Fort Eustis’ Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 6, 2018.

Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager, talks to Airmen during a water confidence training class in Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 6, 2018. Shaw emphasized the importance of mental composure and led the Airmen through meditation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal)

(From Left) U.S. Civil Air Patrol Cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Hall, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Svoleantopoulos, 497th Operation Support Squadron weapons tactician, and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dajon Begin, 45th Intelligence Squadron full motion video imagery mission supervisor, help each other prepare their uniforms for the pool at Fort Eustis’ Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 6, 2018.

Civil Air Patrol Cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Hall, left, Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Svoleantopoulos, 497th Operation Support Squadron weapons tactician, and Air Force Staff Sgt. Dajon Begin, 45th Intelligence Squadron full motion video imagery mission supervisor, help each other prepare their uniforms for the pool at Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 6, 2018. Team unity and integrity are the main pillars in the water confidence training class. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal)

(From Left) U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Dajon Begin, 45th Intelligence Squadron full motion video imagery mission supervisor, U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager, and U.S. Civil Air Patrol Cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Hall, practice water confidence exercises in Fort Eustis’ Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, March 6, 2018.

Staff Sgt. Dajon Begin, left, 45th Intelligence Squadron full motion video imagery mission supervisor, Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager, and Civil Air Patrol Cadet 1st Lt. Thomas Hall, practice water confidence exercises in Anderson Field House at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., March 6, 2018. The Airmen practiced buddy breathing, which requires two Airmen to share one snorkel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Monica Roybal)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.(AFNS) -- As he drove home on an overcast winter’s day, a flood of critical thoughts fueled feelings of defeat that consumed every moment since the blow horn was pressed to signal, “I quit.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Svoleantopoulos, 497th Operations Support Squadron weapons tactician, returned from the Air Force Pararescue Indoctrination Course much sooner than he anticipated.

Svoleantopoulos spent the previous three years mentally and physically training for his goal to successfully cross-train into pararescue. Four weeks into the 13-week development and indoctrination course, he blew the horn to signify self-induced elimination.

“I was feeling extremely low and pathetic,” Svoleantopoulos said. “I stopped working out and I just didn’t care. My direction in life was to get that beret and I failed. I didn’t know what to do anymore.”

Svoleantopoulos said a chance run-in with his training partners at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, in December 2017, is what sparked the beginning of his recovery process. He said the support system of friends and his desire to want to give back to the battlefield Airman community is what helped him bounce back from this personal defeat.

The first step toward recovery was returning to the water confidence classes instructed by Senior Master Sgt. Travis Shaw, Headquarters Air Combat Command Surgeon General pararescue programs manager. Svoleantopoulos said he has been attending the classes since they met two years ago.
“He has invested so much time in us and I owe it to him to use the insight that I have gained to help others in the class to succeed,” Svoleantopoulos said. “I need to show my appreciation for his hard work by paying it forward.”

For the past five years, Shaw, who cross-trained into pararescue, has been teaching an informal water confidence training class for service members interested in cross-training into battlefield Airman careers such as pararescue and combat control.

“I focus on water training because I know from personal experience how much guidance is needed in that part of the indoctrination course,” Shaw said. “This is where most people falter, so I need to prepare them for the toughest part.”

Upon hearing about Svoleantopoulos’ self-elimination, Shaw said he knew he had to allow time for personal healing, but he also knew now was the time Svoleantopoulos needed the very close-knit community of battlefield Airmen.

“This is an exceptional network of like-minded people--that is incredibly important for service members to fall back on,” Shaw said. “We got together to work through this failure, and this was his opportunity to learn from it and grow. I believed the best way for him to move past it was to bring this experience back into the pool to help others.”

Svoleantopoulos said although he cannot tell his training partners exactly what he did at the indoctrination course, he can guide them in the right direction.

“I’m trying to help them learn from my mistakes,” Svoleantopoulos said. “I am the baseline of where they should start to prepare for this training. They don’t need to waste time on useless training methods when I have firsthand knowledge of what works.”

According to Shaw, the two-year long process to become a pararescueman, called the pipeline, has an 80 percent attrition rate, losing most participants during the water training indoctrination phase.

Shaw said the high rate of participant drop-out is why a solid network of support is imperative to conquering the mental battle.

“The network we have established is invaluable,” Shaw said. “It’s not just what we do in the pool. These guys do all kinds of events together, train in other areas to stay well-rounded and check in on one another to stay motivated and push each other to achieve their maximum capabilities.”

Svoleantopoulos said part of Shaw’s training was to prepare for failure. The Airmen were tasked with exercises they could not pass, so that Shaw could gauge their responses.

“He would do things he knew would break us and then ask ‘What are you going to do now?’” Svoleantopoulos said. “If [we] didn’t react appropriately, he would teach us a better way to handle it.”

Armed with the tools to help him continue new career pursuits, Svoleantopoulos said he is ready to start training for his new goal of becoming a U.S. Army Ranger.

“I consider this my biggest failure in life, but it’s also my biggest motivator,” Svoleantopoulos said. “Ultimately, the network and the bonds that I made prior to going to the indoctrination training is what saved me. Now, it is what’s pushing me to continue my journey.”

Engage

Twitter
These exercises ensure the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB is able to provide the nation with winning combat power.… https://t.co/Q622IA7vsR
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: #Teamwork + #Partners = Success! U.S. & German Air Force #JTACs teamed up to call in close air support during exercise #a
Twitter
Night flying exercises provide @48FighterWing aircrew & support personnel the experience needed to maintain a ready… https://t.co/5N20mfHOh3
Twitter
RT @USAF_ACC: .@505th_CCW Shadow Operations Center-Nellis participated in the most recent @usairforce Advanced Battle Management System (AB…
Twitter
The @AFResearchLab uses stimuli-responsive polymers for everything from soft robotic grippers to actuators. Called… https://t.co/ZfkMBa65FU
Twitter
RT @AirmanMagazine: Members of the 413th Test Flight at @TeamEglin, FL., tested three weapons for the HH-60W Jolly Green II. The training…
Twitter
RT @cmsaf_official: I also framed her photo in my office at the pentagon...as a daily reminder of “why” I serve and to “whom” I serve. Ma…
Twitter
RT @cmsaf_official: Liz was a well known and loved member of Team Goodfellow. A photo of her was beautifully framed by my wingman, Chief T…
Twitter
RT @cmsaf_official: Team — this hits close to home with me. A1C Elizabeth Jacobson wasn’t just the first Security Forces Airman to die duri…
Twitter
RT @HQUSAFEAFAF: #AstralKnight 2020 is an Integrated Air & Missile Defense exercise that enhances regional security with our @NATO partners…
Twitter
RT @USAFReserve: Johnson brothers ARTs of maintenance missions (Story by the @403rdWing) #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient #ReadyAF https://…
Twitter
RT @SpaceForceCSO: On this Gold Star Mother’s & Family Day…we remember. We remember those who have fallen in service to our great nation. W…
Twitter
RT @DeptofDefense: To wear the Gold Star button means a military family member has lost a loved one in uniform. On this #GoldStarMothersDay
Twitter
RT @cmsaf_official: A Gold Star Family is the immediate family member(s) of a fallen service member who died while serving in a time of con…
Twitter
RT @cmsaf_official: Wingmen — Since 1936, our nation has recognized the last Sunday of September as Gold Star Mother’s Day. In 2011, we inc…
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: The U.S. is safe because of the men & women, supported by strong and courageous families, who volunteer to protect it. T…
Twitter
A USAF KC-135 Stratotanker, F-15C Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles, & Royal Saudi Air Force F-15SAs fly over Saudi Arabi… https://t.co/hKfSBTpFmJ
Twitter
RT @DeptofDefense: Today, on #GoldStarMothersDay and #GoldStarFamiliesDay, we recognize those who have lost loved ones in the defense of fr…
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,284,136
Follow Us